Communicating High Expectations to Students; A Series of Practical Techniques (Part 2): Responding to Student Answers

In part 1 of this series, I discussed how we can use our questioning techniques to communicate high expectations to students.  In this post, I would like to explore what happens after we ask the question. Specifically, how do we react when students do not know the answer or give incorrect answers.  These moments are key to creating a classroom culture where students can begin to feel safe and confident.

Sticking with it or No Opting Out:

What?  This technique simply requires that each time a teacher asks a student a question, the teacher sticks with that student until that student is able to provide the right answer. Sometimes this involves cuing, or even providing the answer for the student, but always end with the right answer coming from the student.  The goal of the technique is to communicate to all students that “not trying” is not an option.  This will help send the message that effective effort is important and with effort all students will be able to find success.

Example: In it’s simplest form Sticking with it may look comething like this:

Teacher: “What is the first step in Mitosis? (pause) John?”

John:  silence... “I dunno”

Teacher: “Okay we will come back to you, Jane?”

Jane: “Prophrase.”

Teacher: “Good, now you John.”

John: “Prophase.”


  • Sends the message that “it’s okay not to know, but NOT okay not to try.”
  • Helps “low expectancy” students to experience success.
  • Reinforces the message that “When I don’t know the answer, my teacher will not give up on me; my teacher will help.”
  • Can validate other students who do know the answer by allowing them to help peers.
  • Frequent use of this will discourage “I don’t knows” from reluctant students who actually do know.  If they know you are coming back to them anyways they will begin to put the effort in.
  • Help teachers determine whether a student really doesn’t know the answer, or if a student is being defiant.
  • When students begin with a wrong answer or “I don’t know” and end with the correct answer – it provides opportunity for praise and builds academic momentum of the class.


When students respond to questions with an incorrect answer or with an “I don’t know.”

  1. Teacher can provide the answer for student and ask the student to repeat the answer.
  2. Teacher can illicit the answer from a peer and return to original student.
  3. Teacher can provide a cue for the student and/or break down the question and end with student giving answer.
  4. Teacher asks a different question to another student that functions as a cue for the original question; the original student uses it to answer the question.

*Using Cues is more time consuming, but more rigorous


  • Avoid Gotcha’s. When asking questions students need to know we want them to get it right.  Sometimes we can inadvertently make them think we are attempting to catch them not knowing.
  • Be sincere and firm, but try to leave emotion out of your voice.  When we react to incorrect answers with disappointment and frustration we are communicating to students. A neutral tone may prevent a standoff where students become defensive and confrontational.
  • Praise for effort not for achievement.
  • Once you do return to student and get the right answer, following up with a similar question, or asking for more elaboration can help reinforce your high expectations.
  • Consider asking students who answered incorrectly at first to analyze their mistake.
  • Create a classroom culture where mistakes are normal – even welcomed.
  • Use wait time! (3-5 seconds) After asking a question, after calling on student, and after student answers,   Don’t go to another student for help too soon.

Please share any questions or comments in the comment section below.


Communicating High Expectations to Students; A Series of Practical Techniques (Part I)

In education, we have all heard in various PD sessions how important it is to develop relationships and have high expectations for students.  As many things go in education, this concept is much easier said than done.  I want to take some time and describe (briefly) some practical adjustments we can make in the classroom that will help us communicate this important message to kids.  I want to begin by offering sharing with 3 important messages I am across in my reading that we should try to send to kids through our words, actions, and instructional decisions.

  • This is important.
  • You can do it.
  • I will not give up on you.

If your students believe these three messages, the chances of them working for you are much greater.  Also, learning is much more dependent on effort than it is on innate ability, so by making it a priority to communicate high expectations, we can increase the effort a student is willing to give, thus increasing their capacity to learn.  Everything we do in the classroom can communicate a message to students whether they are intentional or not. For students, perception is reality.  Our goal should be to ensure we are sending students messages that will best lead to learning.

Initially, I intended to include five techniques in this post, but as I began writing I realized each technique would need more attention to be helpful.  Instead I will roll out several different techniques as part of a series of posts. So stay tuned for more techniques!


1. Calling On Students: “No hands” (Cold Call).

A frequent practice in the classroom is to ask students questions. But how often do we consider the messages we can communicate to students through our questioning techniques.  If we only answer questions from those students who have their hands up, what message are we sending to the rest of the class? Although unintentional, we may send the message that we only want to hear from kids who are prepared and willing to share.

What ?

Allow hand raising for only asking questions rather than answers. Avoid allowing only volunteers to answer questions. This creates a culture in class where expectation is that everyone thinks of the answer to every question you ask by instructing students to not raise their hands or shout out, but to think of the answer.  The teacher than calls on any student they want (rather than a student who volunteers the answer). Doug Lemov names the technique “Cold Calling” and discusses how this technique can transform a classroom simply because for every question that is asked out loud every student knows they might at any second be held accountable for an answer.

Looks like: “What is the radius of the circle?”  (no hands in the air) Pause “John.”

Not “Who can tell me the radius of this circle?”


  • This will help us get into habit of asking questions of “low-expectancy” students.
  • Communicates to students that you believe everyone has the capacity to answer the questions.
  • Students get the message that their input is important.
  • Using “Cold Call” can be used as a “check for understanding” by asking every student (not just volunteers) the data you get back will be much more accurate.
  • Eliminates the silence after a “who can tell me..?” question. The silence after a “Cold Call” question is intentional and comes with the expectation that everyone is thinking.
  • Eliminates pleading (or worse threatening) for participation “remember you get a grade for participation…”
  • “Cold Call” has some built in wait time which results in longer and more thoughtful answers.
  • No students are “off the hook”- ever.


There are several variations of this technique where students are free to raise there hands, but the teacher still calls on anyone they want.  Question randomizers like, popsicle sticks, index cards, or smart board tools can also work, but we must make sure after a stick is pulled it is added back to cup – so students don’t feel they are “off the hook” for the rest of class.

Tips for implementation:

  • Be explicit about what “Cold Call” is and why you are doing it.\
  • Make it a habit; students need to understand that being ready to participate and answer questions is just how things work.
  • “Cold Call” everyone, but not in a predictable pattern.
  • Never use “Cold Calling” as a punishment or a “Gotcha!” It should be viewed as a students opportunity to demonstrate learning.
  • Normalize mistakes and give students tips what to do when they don’t Know an answer.
  • Plan questions and answers ahead of time (especially when cold calling)
  • Plan to Cold Call high, middle, and low students when trying to determine mastery.
  • “Cold Call” a few times in a row. This will help students from feeling singled out.
  • Let students know prior to learning content that you will be “Cold Calling.”
  • Practice! It is a small change, but it will be very different for you and your students.

As always my goal is to start dialogues of effective instructional practices.  Please include any comments you have on this topic and/or email me at

Value of Pre-Planning Questions and Anticipating Student Mistakes

At some point or another most teachers have experienced the feeling of looking over test results and being surprised by poor results – the gap between “I taught it – but they didn’t learn it.”  In the high stakes world we teach in now, time to reteach is a luxury most of us lack.  So what are some ways we can meet the needs of struggling students without having to spend weeks or days on re-teaching.  Below I will describe a way to better prepare for misconceptions and how we might plan for them proactively – rather than waiting for test results to tell us they don’t understand the content.

Recently while reading Doug Lemov’s Teach Like A Champion 2.0, I came across a piece of advice that seemed very simple, yet something I never did enough when planning lessons: Planning for Student Errors.

Lemov presents the following activity for teachers to do while planning:

  • List three to five of the most important questions you will ask in your lesson
  • For each question, list two incorrect answers you think you are likely to get
  • Describe how you’d respond to each of those incorrect answers

I created  a template for teachers to go through this process here: Scripting Questions:

* Note I also added a space for “desired answers.” It sounds like a no-brainer, but I think there are times when we ask questions on the fly and we may not know exactly what answers we want to hear.  Scripting important questions before lessons and thinking about the answers before hand will prepare us to listen for desired answers and identifying common misconceptions.

Once we have planned questions and thought about the answers we want or may receive, the next step is deciding what to do when misconceptions arise.  It is important to set some flexible time aside in each lesson to either address misconceptions or add more complexity – “Either or Time.”  This is difficult to do if we do not have a plan.  So while looking at the possible incorrect answers a teacher may have one or two extra examples at the ready to model to the class or even a small group if need be, while other students may be asked to complete a more challenging task.

The underlying idea to using a strategy like this is to check for understanding throughout the lesson – and respond appropriately to the understanding that your students demonstrate.  Pre-planning flexible responses is necessary to meet the needs of your students.

As always – Please send any questions comments my way!

What’s in Your Back Pack?

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Education and intervention programs for students, teachers, administrators, parents and other stakeholders in school communities is an imperative to curb negative social communications, including cyber-bullying.

What’s in Your Back Pack? is an intervention program created to assist secondary education students in developing their communication skills and abilities to make changes in their behaviors, if they choose. The quantitative research design is quasi-experimental with pre and post surveys, a presentation of the material by the researcher, and handouts for the students. The theory behind the intervention program is based on transactional analysis, specifically using the basic tenets of the three ego states of personality Parent-Adult-Child (Berne, 1961), the I’m OK; You’re OK (Harris, 1969) model, and how students can effectively make changes in their attitudes, speech, and behavior to affect their underlying values (Clarke, 1984). It is supposed that if secondary education students experience the benefits of transactional analysis as a…

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